Meditation is a relatively easy and completely free activity that has an incredible effect on your moods, anxiety, and stress levels. I discovered this about a decade ago, during a challenging summer when I was really depressed and randomly picked up a few books on Buddhism and meditation to read.
A few years later, I found this wonderful meditation group on my university campus that I went to once a week. I had never received guided meditation before, and being in a relaxed atmosphere gave me a lot of positive space to grow my meditation practice.
Over the years since then, I kept up my meditation practice, until I moved to another state three years ago. Prior to that move, my practice had definitely been faltering. I had swung into another deep depression, and whenever I’m feeling that way I have trouble motivating myself to do even small tasks.
Meditation has been on my mind a lot recently because my mental health these past two or three months has been terrible. Even with anti-depressants and bipolar medication that is helping more than anything else I’ve taken, the stress of my job combined with general life stuff has had me feeling unmotivated and deeply unhappy.
Which is why I’ve started meditating again. I wish I had never stopped, but it’s interesting to see how different my mind is during periods when I’ve meditated than when I haven’t. During long periods when I forgo meditation, I find that it takes less provocation to set off a panic attack or wild mood swings. However, when I meditate regularly, even when it’s just fifteen minutes a day, it’s obvious that I’m handling stress better, have more patience, and find myself having fewer high-anxiety days.
There are so many different ways to meditate, and how you meditate really comes down to what you get the most benefit from. I tend to focus mainly on mindfulness meditation, where I simply follow my breath. I’ve also used walking as a form of meditation, although that’s no longer possible where I live. Some people prefer guided meditation or meditating on an idea or feeling. There’s religious-based meditation and even people who use music or sports (such as running) to give them feelings similar to meditation.
Essentially, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate.
Today, I want to give you guys a quick lesson on how I meditate. It’s very simple, although it isn’t always easy. The instructions below will lay out the basics for you, and I’ve provided some additional tips and advice afterward.
A Simple Mindfulness Meditation Guide
First, start by finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit. It doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy, I usually meditate on my couch or floor. You can do it outside if you want, or in your bed. Just make yourself comfortable.
Set a timer for however long you want to meditate. I usually aim for 10-15 minutes per session, but you can do as little as five minutes or as much as an hour (or more). When you’re first starting out, I recommend keeping it to just 5-10 minutes, and then gradually increasing the time as you get more comfortable.
Now, you’re ready to start meditating! Close your eyes and begin to move your focus to your breath. Some people find this easier to do while silently saying corresponding words to yourself, such as “breathe in/breathe out” or counting your breaths until you get to ten and then starting over. Personally, I either focus on the rise and fall of my chest as I breathe or use the “breathe in/breathe out” method.
Any time a stray thought comes forward, just gently acknowledge it and go back to your breath. Try not to get frustrated when this happens – it’s inevitable. Even people who have been meditating for years have trouble keeping their thoughts entirely at bay.
When your timer goes off, slowly bring yourself out of your practice. I usually take a moment or two to appreciate how relaxed my body feels while slowly opening my eyes. Take as long as you can before getting up and carrying on with your day. Trust me, once you feel how relaxed your body is even after a short meditation session, you’ll want to!
Things to Remember
- There’s no need to get into a full-lotus position or sit in front of an altar of crystals or statues. For this kind of meditation, the only important thing is that you’re in a sitting position that you can comfortably maintain for the duration of your practice.
- It’s okay if you can’t turn off your thoughts! Meditation isn’t easy and it takes years of practice to be able to empty your mind of all thoughts. I’ve been meditating for years and I still find random thoughts popping up every time I sit. When this happens, just acknowledge the thought and go back to your breath.
- If it’s hard for you to focus on your breath, try guided meditations. There are tons of free resources! My favorite app is Headspace. You can also just search guided meditation on YouTube or find CDs at your local library. I’ve seen guided meditations for five minutes all the way up to a couple of hours. Find what works best for you.
- While you can meditate anywhere, some people prefer to set up a little meditation area and find that it helps them maintain the habit. If you have space and think this will help, go for it! It’s easy to set up a nice meditation area. Grab some cushions, candles, plants, or whatever else reminds you of relaxation.
- Most cities have meditation groups available, so if you’d like to find a meditation group or class, do a Google search of your area or check Meetup.com.
- If you have pets, prepare to have them invade your personal space. Over the years, I’ve lived with cats and dogs and it never fails that once I sit down to meditate, they become fascinated and walk over to plop down into my lap or start sniffing at me. Just like those stray thoughts, try to ignore it!
As I said before, meditation is really important to me. If you give this lesson a shot, let me know if it worked for you! This is a topic that I love, so if you want to see more meditation lessons, just let me know!